Allen Pike 2014-07-01T08:37:13-07:00 Allen Pike A company made of people 2014-06-30T16:00:00-07:00 Allen Pike <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' style='width:250px' /> <p>The worst misconception I see about Apple, or around any large company for that matter, is that the company is monolithic. One homogeneous entity that acts in unison. This idea breeds misunderstanding.</p> <p>The news teaches us that companies are ethicless profit-seeking automata. They are granted corporate personhood, with <a href=''>the right to deny healthcare to their workers</a> but no obligation to make the world a better place. Most people think of corporations as a single soulless blob.</p> <p>No corporation has worked harder to seem monolithic than Apple. With a famously tight focus and legendary secrecy, the internal workings of the company are a mystery. &#8220;Apple&#8221; rejects your app, not some front-line app reviewer. &#8220;Apple&#8221; opaquely dupes your Radars, not a specific team&#8217;s junior Engineering Project Manager. For years, Apple&#8217;s showmanship and PR have bred the sense that they are more magical chocolate factory than cube farm.</p> <h2 id='producing_the_worlds_finest_sausage'>Producing the world&#8217;s finest sausage</h2> <p>Back when I worked there, I was surprised by many things. More than anything else, though, I was surprised that it is simply a company made of people.</p> <p>A company made of very bright people, of course. Very bright people working very hard. But still, people. Messy, wonderful, fallible people just trying to do their jobs. People who disagree with one another. People with families, and hobbies, and political opinions. People who say things that are not finely crafted PR messages.</p> <p>This may seem obvious when put into words, but all these details are so well hidden from view in Apple&#8217;s external persona that I was taken aback by it. Most of the executive staff didn&#8217;t speak publically. Even Steve Jobs himself reserved his spotlight for the product - politics and personal flair, not so much.</p> <p>Although <a href=''>some employees</a> got away with writing under a pseudonym, most Apple folks reasonably considered media attention <a href=''>a bad thing</a> and did their best to stay under the radar.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' style='width:250px' /> <p>Today, the people, their personalities, and their values are starting to shine through. Beginning with the leadership &#8220;<a href=''>changes to increase collaboration</a>,&#8221; through the departure of Katie Cotton as the head of PR, to the most open WWDC in memory, it&#8217;s become clear that this is intentional.</p> <p>WWDC this year was filled with things that developers have wanted for years, but most assumed Apple would never allow. We got open analytics data in iTunes Connect, more generous allowances for beta testing, and a slew of extensibility APIs throughout the OS. At the same time, the <a href=''>lifting of the ridiculous WWDC NDA</a> dramatically improved discussion and collaboration within the community.</p> <p>Developers went wild. Brent Simmons marked it <a href=''>the beginning of a new era</a>, Chock <a href=''>chalked it up to confidence</a>, and Casey Liss <a href=''>relished the sense of cooperation</a>. All true.</p> <p>Still, there&#8217;s more to it.</p> <h3 id='the_people_shining_through'>The people shining through</h3> <p>Earlier this year, at Apple&#8217;s annual shareholder meeting, a representative of an anti-environment activist group asked Tim Cook to halt Apple&#8217;s environmental initiatives unless they could be proven profitable. <a href=''>Cook&#8217;s response</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don&#8217;t consider the bloody ROI.</p> </blockquote> <p>He suggested the group sell their Apple stock. I&#8217;m not sure what Katie Cotton thought of that, but it was great to see Tim&#8217;s personality and values laid out.</p> <p>More recently, Eddy Cue and Jimmy Iovine <a href=''>did an interview for re/code</a>, Jony Ive has been giving more frequent and in depth <a href=''>interviews</a>, Angela Arhents <a href=''>wrote a piece on LinkedIn</a> about her first month at Apple, and Phil Schiller has <a href=''>started tweeting regularly</a>, cartoon avatar and all.</p> <p>Of course, no discussion of Apple execs letting their hair down is complete without Craig Federighi. Craig&#8217;s WWDC performance was full of personality, but I paid special attention to a gesture he made off stage. He took the time, on what was surely one of the most exhausting days of his life, to let hordes of developers take selfies with their silver-haired hero.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' style='width:100%' /> <p>With the WWDC NDA lifted, other Apple employees, from <a href=''>the creator of Swift</a> to various API maintainers, took to Twitter to gather feedback on all the goodies they&#8217;d dumped on developers. In the web community this would be expected behaviour. In the Apple community, it&#8217;s a delight.</p> <p>Of course, this is a shift, not a revolution. Apple will never get to the point where their culture tolerates, say, <a href=''>employees publicly tweeting that their CEO should step down</a>. Indeed, as a public company with fierce competitors, they&#8217;re obligated to maintain decorum and secrecy around things that are materially sensitive.</p> <p>Still, around the things that aren&#8217;t core secrets - developer relations, employee personality, and standing up for their values - Apple is feeling more like a chorus of real people and less like a monolith.</p> <p>On Sunday, Tim Cook <a href=''>led thousands of Apple employees in the San Francisco Pride Parade</a>. This is Tim&#8217;s Apple, and I like it a lot.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' style='width:100%' /> Feeding the Baby 2014-05-31T16:00:00-07:00 Allen Pike <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' style='width:250px' /> <p>Like all respectable businesses, Steamclock started in a basement. Four years ago, we outfitted Nigel&#8217;s basement with the old desks we&#8217;d imported from our corporate jobs, and some basic office chairs. Our presence was fascinating to Nigel&#8217;s kids, and they&#8217;d come downstairs to visit whenever they could find an excuse. They&#8217;d often draw us making apps, or map out ideas for their own apps and games.</p> <p>At that time, whenever I was asked for my job title, I just put the same thing I&#8217;d been at Apple: Software Engineer. Our degrees are both in Computer Science, and we took pride in having two technical co-founders. Of course, non-coding tasks would come up - design, planning, testing. These tasks generally went to me. I love design, and Nigel is such a good programmer that it&#8217;s kind of crazy for him to be doing anything else. Still, I always felt guilty when I wasn&#8217;t writing code. I thought of my day as split between productive coding time and distracting non-coding time.</p> <p>A few months in, we were notified of a crash in our app WeddingDJ that we needed to submit to Apple by the end of the day - a Friday. We had neglected to test the iOS 4.2 beta for issues, and it bit us. Nigel knew how to fix the crash, but he needed instead to feed his baby and then leave for the weekend. Like it or not, I foresaw spending hours with his twisty audio code determining how to fix the bug myself.</p> <p>Just then, another solution came to me. &#8220;How about, I&#8217;ll feed the baby, and you fix the bug.&#8221; The solution was simple and rational. So, for the first time in my life, I fed a baby.</p> <p>As I learned then, babies aren&#8217;t very good at eating. She had only recently started on solid food, yet thankfully was receptive to food being put in her mouth. I would put food in, she would push most it back out, and I&#8217;d repeat - asymptotically approaching having eaten a spoonful of pear mush. It wasn&#8217;t hard work, but I was not particularly qualified to do it. Still, it was, at that moment, my job.</p> <p>Nine-month-old babies don&#8217;t talk much, especially when they&#8217;re attempting to eat pear mush, so I had some quiet time to think while I worked away. I pondered the fact that I&#8217;d left my job writing code for a company I love, so I could feed a baby.</p> <p>Still, it felt oddly right. My job was to do whatever it took to ship great software. I felt like I was indirectly fixing that crash, ten times faster than I could have on my own, and at the same time doing something I&#8217;d never done before.</p> <p>I knew at that moment I&#8217;d made the right move.</p> Burying the URL 2014-04-30T16:00:00-07:00 Allen Pike <p>Today, <a href=''>a Canary build of Google Chrome</a> removed something kind of important from the browser: the URL.</p> <p>Of course it still supports them, but the time where users actually see URLs is ending. With Chrome&#8217;s &#8220;Enable origin chip in Omnibox&#8221; flag, Location becomes a write-only field. Clicking there no longer reveals the URL for the user to edit or share, but instead waits for you to search Google.</p> <p><em>Update: Chrome&#8217;s Paul Irish has come out against this change, which he <a href=''>says at this point is an experiment</a>.</em></p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' /> <p>I realize that URLs are ugly to look at, hard to remember, and a nightmare for security. Still, they are the entire point of the web.</p> <h2 id='tangled'>Tangled</h2> <p>There was a recent round of debate about what the term &#8220;web&#8221; even means, where many people shared a common idea. <a href=''>John Gruber put it so</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>The web has always been a nebulous concept, but at its center is the idea that everything can be linked.</p> </blockquote> <p>Putting it more directly, <a href=''>Boris Smus said</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>To me, the critical thing is that content be addressable by URL, and cross-linkable in some reasonable way.</p> </blockquote> <p>URLs are the essence. They make hypertext hyper. The term &#8220;web&#8221; is no accident &#8211; it refers to this explicitly.</p> <p>Unlike other modern technologies that have hidden as much complexity as possible, web browsers have continued to put this technical artifact top center, dots, slashes and all. The noble URL caused a revolution in sharing and publishing.</p> <p>It is also a usability tarpit that directly competes with search.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' style='width:300px' /> <p>Six years ago, Chrome and Firefox enabled search in the location field. Where previously typing &#8220;ruby&#8221; would send you to and dump you on the Kay Jewelers site, now it directs you to by way of a Google results page. Of course this benefits Google, but it&#8217;s also better for users. Usability 1, URLs 0.</p> <p>More recently, browsers started hiding the URL scheme. http:// was no more, as far as most users were concerned. In iOS 7, Mobile Safari went even further and hid everything about the URL except the domain. With the Chrome &#8220;origin chip&#8221; change, the URL will move out of the field entirely, to a tidy little button that many users will never even realize is clickable.</p> <p>I suppose burying the URL like this will probably have some usability and security benefits. I know older users intimidated enough by the location bar in its traditional form that they never click it at all. For these same users, maybe this change will finally make clear the security implications of putting their banking information into<wbr /><wbr />securelogin.asp. And of course, it will drive searches.</p> <h2 id='trading_places'>Trading places</h2> <p>As large JavaScript &#8220;single page app&#8221; development has become popular, the rallying call has been to <a href=''>not break the web</a>, and make sure these apps still work via URLs. Native apps, meanwhile, have been fairly dismal in terms of linkability, creating silos of content that have no sensical URL. If you agree that the web is about linkability, I&#8217;m not sure how you can think the current native app ecosystem is web-like.</p> <p>To this end, Facebook today announced <a href=''>AppLinks</a>, a documented standard for app-to-app linking that has the backing of other big names like Dropbox and Pinterest. While Google is taking the web out of the browser, Facebook is putting the web into apps.</p> <p>Perhaps URLs are just destined to be an implementation detail that the next generation of users won&#8217;t even know exists. Maybe I was crazy to think that URLs were a permanent part of our culture. Still, I&#8217;ll miss the damn things. Let&#8217;s pour one out for the URL.</p>